Orchids, fathers, sons and anti-gay battle-axes

Ten years ago, I would have been quick to write, with great agitation, about letters such as the one by a Josephine Tay, published in the Straits Times on 26 November 2011. She took issue with naming an orchid after Elton John, suggesting that the move signalled open encouragement and endorsement by the government.

Now, I am still annoyed with battle-axes like her, but no longer greatly. My pouncing reflexes are not what they used to be. Perhaps I am mellower with age, but mostly, it’s a sense that the crest of the mountain has been crossed. There’s still much rough ground to cover before we reach the end of the journey, if indeed we even know what “end” means, but the incline is such that the risk of sliding backwards just because someone is pushing against us is much smaller.

First, let’s see what she wrote:

I read with great disappointment that Elton John has been given the honour of having an orchid named after him (Orchid Named After Elton John, Prime, Nov 19). I am dismayed that his partner David Furnish and their adopted son Zachary (both right with John) were also publicised to ‘share his honour’.

There are other celebrities and dignitaries more deserving than this pair. Singapore would be seen in a much better light on the world stage if, for example, recent F1 champion Sebastian Vettel had been accorded this privilege instead.

Is homosexuality to be openly encouraged and endorsed by the Government?

Josephine Tay

– Straits Times Life! (mailbag), 26 Nov 2011

Actually, she destroyed her own message by the third sentence. Does she really think that Sebastian Vettel, a race car driver, is a more prominent and worthy person than Elton John? Racing cars is a sport for the rich, but Elton John, through his life’s work, has given much sweet happiness to hundreds of millions. As someone said on Facebook, there’s a reason why Elton John has been knighted. It speaks volumes about her judgement.

Ten years ago, I would have responded to Josephine Tay’s last question by pointing out that sexual orientation is not a choice; it can neither be encouraged or spread. Today, I am rather inclined to say Yes. Not quite Yes, it is to be openly encouraged and endorsed by the government, but Yes, ordinary people from all walks of life are actually beginning to do little things in their own way, to promote acceptance and even celebration of diversity.

More importantly, increasing numbers of other people, including civil servants, when faced with suggestions that so-and-so be nominated for this-or-that, say Why not? even though they all know that he or she is gay or lesbian. It is a non-issue in their minds.

A decision to name an orchid after Elton John would have gone through a process, though how many people it involved and how high up it went I don’t know. That it went through a process with different people involved, tells you that we are looking at the effects of broad attitudinal change.

What is happening in Singapore parallels, though with considerable lag, what has happened in the UK and US.

Surveys of social attitudes by NatCen in Britain have included this question every two or three years: Sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are (a) always/mostly wrong, (b) sometimes wrong, (c) rarely wrong, (d) not wrong at all.

In 1983, 62 percent said it was “always/mostly wrong”. Only 16 percent said it was “not wrong at all”. Fourteen years on, in the 2007 survey, only 36 percent said it was “always/mostly wrong” and 39 percent said it was “not wrong at all”. Another 10 percent in 2007 said it was “rarely wrong”.

In the United States,

The rise in support for same-sex marriage has been especially dramatic over the last two decades. It went from 11 percent approval in 1988 to 46 percent in 2010, compared to 40 percent who were opposed, producing a narrow plurality in favor for the first time. The report is based on findings of the latest General Social Survey, conducted in 2010 with a cross sample of more than 2,000 people.

“There is a large generation gap on the issue [of same-sex marriage],” Smith said. While 64 percent of those under 30 back same-sex marriage, only 27 percent of those 70 and older support it.

Acceptance of homosexuality in general also reflects the generational difference in opinion. In 2010, 26 percent of the people surveyed who were under 30 said they felt homosexual behavior is “always wrong,” while 63 percent of the people aged 70 and older held that opinion.

As a result of the generational division, public attitudes are sharply divided on the issue. Although 44 percent of the people surveyed felt that sexual relations between two adults of the same sex is always wrong, another 41 percent thought such relations were “not wrong at all.”

– UChicagoNews, 28 Sept 2011, Americans move dramatically toward acceptance of homosexuality, survey finds. Link

We have an added problem in Singapore — the government. We have a government that draws its parliamentary members disproportionately from Christian ranks — and churches have been at the vanguard of anti-gay hate spreading — but is also one that no longer knows how to lead, especially on social issues. Complicating the situation is the government’s general antipathy to advancement of human rights in Singapore. So long as the government sees strengthening human rights as a threat to its dominance, it is going to try to close off avenues provided by such arguments for any cause.

That said, there is a glimmer of hope from the constitutional challenge being mounted by M Ravi against Section 377A of the Penal Code. We’re still waiting for a decision by the Court of Appeal on a procedural question, but from various reports, the counsel for the Attorney-General’s Office was verbally manhandled by the judge during the most recent hearing. Was it a sign of the judge’s thinking?

It’s only a glimmer precisely because of the point I made above — that human rights (or even constitutional rights, in this case) are seen as threatening to the political order. Judges, for all their intellect and independence, are necessarily conscious of the political context, and not just in Singapore, but even in the US. Ultimately, they are being asked to interpret, and it is impossible to divorce interpretation from the wider social and political context.

Ah, “social context”. To the extent that it is evolving, it too will figure in judicial decisions. Can one calculate that, just like how a proposal to name an orchid after Elton John, or publish a photo in the Straits Times showing the entire family together are indicative of a general shrugging of shoulders, so if the Supreme Court ultimately rules that Section 377A is unconstitutional, the cabinet would shrug its shoulders too?

It just might. Things change. Another minister’s son has just come out as gay.

Coming back to orchids, Elton John is not the first gay person to have an orchid named after him in Singapore. There is at least Ricky Martin, who in 2003 posed with a pot of Renaglottis Ricky Martin (see photo at right). Does anyone have a close-up of the flower?

At the time, the hip-thrusting latino superstar was not yet publicly out, though even then rumours were circulating. But now that he is out and a father of twin boys (announced August 2008) via surrogate pregnancy, what does Josephine Tay think? Is she going to hire a lawyer to demand that Martin surrender the orchid?

Oh, and since the above photo of Ricky Martin is most uncharacteristic of him, here’s a better one:

32 Responses to “Orchids, fathers, sons and anti-gay battle-axes”


  1. 1 yinbin 1 December 2011 at 10:57

    Are those anti-gay people just vicious by nature or what? Homosexuals are an innocuous group who just want equal treatment like everyone else. The percentage of homosexuals in the population is relatively fixed. Human sexuality is something you are born with (despite dubious arguments to the contrary). Homosexuals will not turn heterosexual (notwithstanding the ‘ex-gays’), nor will heterosexuals turn homosexual. Why practice discrimination against a group for a characteristic that they can do nothing about?

    Why do the anti-gay people fail to realize that they WILL go down history the same way supporters of slavery/racial segregation? Good thing to know is that these people will die out, FAST!

  2. 2 Loh 1 December 2011 at 12:28

    Alex, as far as I know, it does not take much of a process to get an orchid to be named after someone. I know a friend who works in Nparks and he said all it takes is 5 thousand Sing dollars.

  3. 3 Poker Player 1 December 2011 at 13:45

    “Actually, she destroyed her own message by the third sentence. Does she really think that Sebastian Vettel, a race car driver, is a more prominent and worthy person than Elton John? ”

    Not only her message – if this is the best letter ST received from the anti-gay side, it says something about their level of general culture. I shouldn’t have to say this but Sebastian Vettel is not even in the same league.

    • 4 Poker Player 1 December 2011 at 13:56

      For her benefit, just to let her know how far off she is: if Elton John had retired when the 70′s ended, he would still be leagues ahead of Sebastian Vettel.

  4. 5 Poker Player 1 December 2011 at 16:10

    “That said, there is a glimmer of hope from the constitutional challenge being mounted by M Ravi against Section 377A of the Penal Code. ”

    It’s hard to reconcile your pessimistic tone with the fact that on one side you have Lady Gaga, Ricky Martin, Gandalf and Magneto and on the other Vivian Balakrishnan, Lui Tuck Yew and Thio mere et fille.

  5. 6 Alan Wong 1 December 2011 at 17:10

    Supposing if LKY’s daughter was to admit that she also happens to be gay, would the PAP govt change their attitude towards gays ?

  6. 7 Vane 1 December 2011 at 18:15

    When I read her comment I really wonder what is going on in her mind.
    Endorsed or encouraged by the government? At most it be seen as its O.K to be who you are…

    Its not like the straight guys who loves to ogle at women will suddenly turn gay simply because the govt allowed named a flower after a gay person.

    Its almost as if she thinks that sexual identity, orientation etc… can be learnt.

  7. 8 Yujuan 1 December 2011 at 18:52

    People here got Josephine wrong. She is not anti gay, just asking whether homosexuality is subtly being encouraged in Singapore through naming a an orchid after Elton.
    Mostly people in this country, including this commentator, are not anti gay, as we accept gays and lesbians have their right to live in their own way in a democratic country, but we dun accept flaunting themselves publicly.
    Singaporeans may look and act modern on the surface, but scratch the skin, we are rather a conservative society, and it’s not fair for the pink community to impose themselves on us, no matter how subtly the action is,
    just hope they are more circumspect in their behaviour.
    However, we give kudos to this section of the society for being very talented people, particularly in the arts, like Elton John and Ricky Marten,
    and even our PAP Govt very gingerly treat them with respect, regarding their capability in their work, and won’t discriminate them in this respect.
    But they should not push the boundary too far, at least not yet, in an Asian country like Singapore.

      • 10 jem 2 December 2011 at 14:01

        A less flippant response:

        You posted pretty much the same thing in an earlier article, got a whole lot of largely similar comments, didn’t bother responding to any, and now you are back posting the same thing again.

        I can’t imagine that you are actually interested in any kind of meaningful discussion, but are just here to ‘force your opinions down on people’ — oh sorry, does that sound familiar?

        You ARE anti gay. You suggest that (only?) successful gay people should be treated with respect (and then only gingerly), but every other, non-professional aspect should be sanitised. Do you ever apply the same criteria to straight people?

      • 11 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 14:26

        In hindsight, I should have responded the same way:

        “One belly laugh is worth a thousand syllogisms” (H.L. Mencken, quoted by Martin Gardner).

    • 12 Leuk75 2 December 2011 at 03:18

      So in an Asian country, we are conservative and hence the pink community should not impose themselves on us? Two scenarios next, think through them:

      1. We are conservative, so we can start demanding that the less conservative must toe our line. So they can’t impose on us but we can impose on them to respect our line and they can’t show themselves?

      2. We give kudos to this section of very talented non-Chinese, particularly in the arts and won’t discriminate them in this respect. But they should not push the non-Chinese boundary too far, at least not yet in an Asian country like Singapore

      So we substitute homosexuality with say “left handers”, “Malays” etc. See if it stands up to social scrutiny.

    • 13 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 11:18

      “t’s not fair for the pink community to impose themselves on us”

      Who is “us”?

      I am not gay and I haven’t experienced gays imposing whatever it is on me.

      The community that openly does impose itself and I know many people will agree are Evangelical Christians.

    • 14 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 11:22

      ““it’s not fair for the pink community to impose themselves on us”

      Ask non-Christians (or even Christians of the “wrong” denomination) who attended mission schools (funded by taxpayers of all religions and no religion) what is was like in the 80′s and before – and you will truly understand the meaning of “impose”.

    • 15 Poker Player 2 December 2011 at 11:28

      “She is not anti gay, just asking whether homosexuality is subtly being encouraged in Singapore through naming a an orchid after Elton.”

      Funny way of “asking”:

      “I read with great disappointment that Elton John has been given the honour of having an orchid named after him (Orchid Named After Elton John, Prime, Nov 19). I am dismayed that his partner David Furnish and their adopted son Zachary (both right with John) were also publicised to ‘share his honour’.”

    • 16 tk 2 December 2011 at 11:44

      christ yuj, you really are a bigoted little happy clappy aren’t you. i wonder if you’re not expressing some nagging little insecurity?

      i’m interested in what you mean by “flaunting themselves publicly”, and “impose themselves on us”? do you mean elton’s accepting the award? do you think elton should have refused the honour, just in case he offended people like you?

      and i wonder, do you even see what is so wrong with your last paragraph?
      let me re-word it to give you an idea.

      However, we give kudos to Black people for being very talented people, particularly in sports, like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan,
      and even our PAP Govt very gingerly treat them with respect, regarding their capability in their work, and won’t discriminate them in this respect.
      But they should not push the boundary too far, at least not yet, in an Asian country like Singapore.

      get over yourself yuj. if you’re so insecure about who you are and worried that naming a flower after a gay man will cause you to go out and fellate some fellow, perhaps it’s time to do the experiment and get yourself down to the gay bars in chinatown, just to see.

    • 18 Vane 2 December 2011 at 12:35

      I don’t understand you Yujuan. What are you trying to say? That Singapore is an Asian country and therefore should be conservative?

      What does being conservative mean to you?
      What does it entail, does it mean rigidly abiding by some form of traditional and fuedal “asian” mindset?

      Can you please elaborate because I can think of several “conservative values” that are actually detrimental to an individual’s rights.

    • 19 Tan 5 December 2011 at 02:29

      Josephin is definitely anti-gay. She would not ask the same question like if French is being encouraged in Singapore if an orchild is being named after a French celebrity. In this case, Frenchness is not deemed a liability but gayness is.
      I think what most people who claim to be not anti-gay and yet do not wish to see homosexuality being flaunted openly missed the point that occurs everyday in a gay person’s existence. If a gay person falls in love and wishes to stay with his gay lover in an apartment, which is natural, considering that this is the state of relationship that all lovers wish to arrive at, gay or otherwise, what is then considered as non-flaunting? Should they lie to their neighbours if their neighbours were to become suspicious? It is not only a violation of the principle of honesty and integrity, it also does not lend genuiness to two people in love. When two people are in love, what they want to do is to declare to the world that they are in love. It does not feel right if they are to lie to others about the relationship or to disguise their relationshp from public eyes, as mentioned by some ministers, that is to make it private. Relationships are not a cat-and-mouse game,when you have to worry each day when is the next time you will get caught. To put in exaggerated terms, there is no way for a gay person to be happy unless he flaunts his gayness.

    • 20 wikigam 5 January 2012 at 09:49

      The day i pass by a unisex salon, the women say to me ” Mr. you want to wash head , we wash .. big and small head …” .. a bit puzzle the mean of “flaunting”

  8. 21 jem 1 December 2011 at 20:51

    I particularly liked the way she capitalised ‘government’. Says so much about her views on authority..

  9. 22 jax 1 December 2011 at 21:22

    while the commenters so far r criticising joe teo for how little she knows about elton and sebastian, has anyone considered all the many other things that MPs comment on that they know nothing about but claim that what they say is corr?
    and that all this untrue or illogical stuff is being swallowed and believed by masses of people who asso dun know?

  10. 23 Thor 1 December 2011 at 23:18

    I hated the way VB tried to politically assassinate VW using sexual orientation. It is appealing to our baser instincts and there was some measure of success garnered from this low handed tactic. I cannot stand the fact that a lightweight like TPL pontificates in parliament while people of calibre and genuine calling and passion, TJS or VW for example , remain outside. Perhaps VB will face cosmic justice in the future.

  11. 24 Change of heart 2 December 2011 at 11:19

    Though I am currently in my mid-twenties and I too, went through an attitudinal change with respect to my views on LGBT relationships.

    If you asked me ten years ago what I felt about LGBT relationships, I would probably tell you straight up that it’s wrong. I was brought up in a fairly conservative middle class family – I went to “good” schools in Singapore and attended church with my family. In my social circles, the topic of LGBT relationships was hardly raised and if it did come up in conversation, it was not spoken of positively. I also personally knew no one who was openly gay or lesbian. As with many things in life, you fear and dislike what you don’t know.

    Ten years on, my views on LGBT relationships and marriage have taken a complete turn, though I have to admit that it wasn’t something that happened overnight. I think my views on LGBT relationships began to soften when I met openly gay/lesbian couples in real life while living overseas. I saw such love between these couples, something that I couldn’t always see in heterosexual couples. The other thing that struck me was how “normal” in gay/lesbian people are – that all my fears about them were simply unfounded and based on ignorance. It was around the same time that I began to read more about the issue and think more deeply the arguments both the LGBT and anti-gay (mostly Christian) movement put forth. That was when I also began to see the hate and hypocrisy that exists in the anti-gay rhetoric.

    I guess the point I am trying to make is that it is possible for people to change their mind on the issue, as I have. While awareness and advocacy can help change minds, I think there is nothing more powerful than putting a face to it. When I think of my friends (or even celebrities who I support) who are gay/lesbian, I cannot in all good conscience as a human being deny them of their right to be happy with the person they love.

    • 25 TCL 2 December 2011 at 18:44

      I am heartened to read “change of heart”‘s comment. I have myself gone through a change of heart of sorts over the years. I am also in my mid-twenties and grew up in an ultra conservative family. A family where homosexuality is seen as a sin or bad karma from a previous life. I’m Buddhist and while my religious community is relatively more tolerant compared to certain Christian communities, I am often made to feel like I should be pitied for having to repay my sins from a previous life. Yes, my wrong doings apparently transcends lives.

      To top it off, I am bisexual and am equally happy in a r/s with either man or woman. While my gays friends can use the reason that being gay is not a choice, it often felt like a choice to me. Imagine the confusion in my younger self when people around me kept asking why I don’t just date men and make things easier for everyone. Am I being deliberately rebellious? I know now I am not. I firmly believe that two consenting adults should be allowed to love and live as any heterosexual couple regardless of gender.

      It has been a long winding road to self acceptance and a change of heart that even I fell in love with a woman I deserve the same rights as if I had fallen in love with a man. Eventually, I did fall in love with a woman and my change of heart has enabled me to take the next step. We flew to Canada where we can get legally married and announced our decision to family and friends.

      I am grateful for people like Elton John, who consciously or sub-consciously (maybe just second nature to him), brought his family up on that stage and in turn putting a face to the gay family.

      And to people like Yujuan, you have been flaunting your heterosexuality and imposing your one track mind on people like me for too long.

  12. 27 The 2 December 2011 at 22:38

    /// Vane 2 December 2011 at 12:35

    I don’t understand you Yujuan. What are you trying to say? That Singapore is an Asian country and therefore should be conservative?

    What does being conservative mean to you?
    What does it entail, does it mean rigidly abiding by some form of traditional and fuedal “asian” mindset?

    Can you please elaborate because I can think of several “conservative values” that are actually detrimental to an individual’s rights. ///

    I think what Yujuan is referring to are the “Asian conservative values” as embodied in the Kama Sutra and Dream of the Red Chambers.

  13. 29 The 4 December 2011 at 22:46

    How can I forget this Asian Value which was way ahead of its time – Jin Peng Mei – The Golden Lotus.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Lotus

  14. 30 Vane 5 December 2011 at 12:16

    Exactly the point. To a certain extent the influx of abrahamic religions brought about intolerance for homosexuality. Of how much it is a sin in the bible. (Won’t comment on the Quran since I haven’t read it).

    The thing is most western nations have already move ahead and over this. Singaporeans like Yujuan are still stuck in colonial conservative mindset.

  15. 31 reservist_cpl 5 December 2011 at 14:54

    If LKY’s daughter were lesbian it wouldn’t matter. Lesbian sex isn’t criminalised, only gay sex is.

  16. 32 evanlucas 3 January 2012 at 17:22

    If anyone should complain about “flaunting” and “impose”, it should be the gay people. Why … those heteros have been flaunting their hetero relationships in our faces almost daily … like when they flash their wedding rings and talk non-stop about their other-sex partners. Or when they try to “match-make” me to female colleagues when i’ve already told them i’m gay and romantically interested only in men. Double standards, really, for those homophobes who say the gays are flaunting or imposing.


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